The art concept DUALITY

By Jean Couteau

27 February 2009

All the versions of this article:
English français Indonesia

J-PHILIPPE tries to go beyond all dif­fer­ences in a single mes­sage of hope.

Duality of the real ... and beyond By Jean Couteau  [1]

What does one see first? Sometimes it is a sort of “haze”, which draws you into an unreal world, a world of the unsaid and the unknown where dreams and emo­tions are at the fore­front. Only then do the lines defining the human char­ac­ters emerge – little by little, as your eyes rel­e­gate the “haze” to an abstract func­tion – to take on the hard appear­ance of Balinese social reality. But some­times the oppo­site hap­pens. It is the lines that first attract atten­tion, but just as you are entering the scenes of Balinese life so depicted, your eye has already jumped into the unreal space of the “haze” and the reality of dreams and emo­tions.

The works of the young French painter, J-PHILIPPE – exhib­ited at D Gallery between 27th February and 11th March 2009 , are indeed an invi­ta­tion to look dif­fer­ently at reality.

Social reality, in the his­tory of fig­u­ra­tion, is tra­di­tion­ally rep­re­sented either by empha­sizing the scene, as in French mid-19th realism, or by mod­i­fying the rules of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of form, as in clas­sical Expressionism. Jean Philippe’s approach is dif­ferent. He sticks to the real – his fig­ures are derived from pho­tog­raphy, his pho­tographs are of very high quality – but he mod­i­fies this real in two dif­ferent ways: by keeping impor­tant ele­ments of the orig­inal image empty, and thus let­ting us imagine some unrep­re­sented parts of the real scene; and, more impor­tantly, by cre­ating the afore­men­tioned “haze” atmo­sphere looming over the scene, to sug­gest that “re­ality” is not “re­ality” or, rather, that there are sev­eral pos­sible read­ings of any reality. By hovering between the two poles of “haze” and “re­ality”, J-PHILIPPE seems to be telling us that per­cep­tion is not some­thing fixed and that artistic expres­sion mustn’t be either.

It is also pos­sible to make a social reading of J-PHILIPPE’s works and see them as a visual dis­course on the con­di­tion of Balinese women. These women, he seems to tell us, have two faces. Some of them are dressed in the most beau­tiful dance cos­tumes. They are pretty, of a still inno­cent beauty. Often staring away fixedly, they appear lost in some pri­vate thought, in some need to have dreams and keep secrets. Others have the gait and clothing of women workers. Old and wrin­kled, they have no time for broken dreams or secrets. Beauty and the fem­i­nine are dead in them, taken away by a life of toil and labor. Those two types of women are the dual face of Balinese wom­an­hood.

Remarkable, in this social reading, is the absence of any exotic stereo­typing of the sort that has long been the staple of Western artists depicting Bali. J-PHILIPPE’s “Ba­li­nese women”, how­ever beau­tiful they may be, are bereft of any sexual allu­sions. They visu­ally stand out on account of what appears to be their vir­ginal inno­cence. They are not fea­tured as prey. The painter’s gaze is not preda­to­rial. He simply por­trays the beauty in those women, not some sort of exotic dif­fer­ence that would make them the objects of sexual fan­tasy. An atti­tude much healthier than that of most of his Western artist pre­de­ces­sors. To him, the beauty of Balinese women should not pre­vent one from seeing them merely as humans to empathize with.

Free of Western sexual stereo­types in his treat­ment of Balinese women’s beauty, J-PHILIPPE is also free of nor­ma­tive cul­tural stereo­typing. When he depicts the other type of Balinese women, the old, ugly, and bur­dened ones, he does not try to put him­self on a “moral” high ground and say that it is improper to have women work and carry bur­dens the way Balinese women usu­ally do. To him, their ugli­ness should not pre­vent one from seeing even old Balinese women merely as humans to empathize with.

In short, what char­ac­ter­izes J-PHILIPPE’s atti­tude in his treat­ment, in his works, of the social issue of Balinese wom­an­hood, is his total absence of prej­u­dices – colo­nial as well as post-colo­nial. He seems to tell us that Balinese women may be beau­tiful, but this should not entitle Westerners to “see” and treat them as sexual objects in the name of an “ex­otic” dif­fer­ence enshrined in colo­nial his­tory. Similarly, Balinese elderly women may be over-bur­dened by the work they are com­pelled to do by their tra­di­tion, but this should not entitle anyone to posi­tion him­self as a lesson-giver in the name of some abstract ideal of civ­i­lized behavior. Societies, his works show us, are made up of “real” people whose behavior and value system ought to be respected for their own sakes. Empathy, or “Love” (in the Christian trans­la­tion of empathy), is the only way these issues should be approached.

There is indeed some­thing “Chris­tian” that inhabits J-PHILIPPE. Not Christian as a mere gen­eral cul­tural ref­er­ence, but as a behav­ioral inspi­ra­tion for daily life. It should be noted here that the artist first came to Indonesia in 1991 not simply to work, as a grad­uate of the famous Ecole Boulle of arts and crafts in Paris, but as a faithful young Catholic lay brother, entrusted with the run­ning of an art school owned by the Catholic church in Gianyar. So, unlike others, he came to “serve”, not to look for adven­ture or make a for­tune. Now set­tled in Gianyar, he sees in the Balinese and other Indonesians living around him, not simply “Ba­li­nese” or “In­done­sians”, but human brothers with whom he shares a simple daily, and very reli­gious life.

In this con­text, the “haze” comes back into the pic­ture with a new layer of meaning. J-PHILIPPE always begins his works by first painting the abstract beige or brown color that I have called the “haze”, thus cre­ating an atmo­sphere that dampens realism to take us some­where beyond it. This “haze” can be con­strued to rep­re­sent the “un­know­able” that remains the realm of each of us in our irre­ducible “sep­a­rate­ness”. It may also be the dreams of dancers or the suf­fering of old ladies. But at a deeper level, it evokes the “be­yond” that links sep­a­rate­ness, dreams and pain, and even­tu­ally all of us, in the same Unknown that calls for med­i­ta­tion and prayer.

So, when looking at J-PHILIPPE’s paint­ings, let’s go first, as he does, into what he “sees” and visu­ally depicts, and then, move into what he “feels” and even what he believes, into his beau­tiful haze, where he tries to go beyond all dif­fer­ences in a single mes­sage of hope.

Please note

[1French sociologist, an eminent art critic, specialist in the painting of Ubud, installed for twenty years in Bali.

  J-Philippe, Bali The artist The art concept (...)

Our conversation

© Copyright・ 日ごとの福音・一般社団法人 ・2017~2021